Sunday, July 16, 2006

End of Part One

I realise more and more how in need I am of this trip back home. Almost nine months out here and the combination of heat, numbers of human beings and a couple of non-stop months means that going home is definitely what I require. A slew of things are already lined up for my return, including going back to my old department to chat with people there. Seeing friends and family is of course high on the list of priorities and I'm not sure how much time I'm actually going to have to sit back at home and relax.

So, I'm packed-ish though I'll spend the next day and a bit realising that I really need another two suitcases to take two weeks worth of things back. Yesterday I spent souvenir hunting through the bustling street markets around Qianmen and picked up a couple of bargains. On route I had lunch in my first ever North Korean restaurant where I was faced with quite a shock and a strange insight into my own reactions. I'm well aware that if I ever eat dog that one of my friends will never speak to me again. I thought that this was the only reason that I wouldn't eat it, however yesterday I was taught a surprising lesson. As I was tucking into my bowl of noodles I picked up a piece of meet and asked what it was as it looked a little different from regular beef. Looking a little sheepish my friend replied that it was dog. Immediately my heart sped up, my stomach tightened and images of both my friend and golden retrievers etc. rushed through my mind. I think that my regular meals consisting of stomach, foot, lung etc. of donkey, frog, snail etc. precludes me from the squeamish category so I was rather surprised by my reaction. Dolefully I asked if it was really dog, really really dog to which the answer was yes, until it became apparent that I was genuinely upset by this at which point the bovine truth was revealed, with much laughter from all but myself. I didn't finish the noodles and I shan't be trying dog any time soon.

So, Andrew, my friend from Southampton, somehow made it all around China through the backwaters with just two words of Chinese to his name and seemed to have a pretty good time. I've mentioned this before but it's always interesting to hear the perspectives of China through the eyes of a newcomer who spots things that I've either forgotten or always been oblivious to. Andrew has also been to India and mentioned that the tastiness of the street food in China couldn't compare to that in India which I have to agree with. Though the Chinese cuisine is truly one of the world's greatest, the street fare doesn't tend to be that spectacular. This may be because the difference between the Chinese food here and back home is far greater than the difference between Indian food in India and back home so many of the tastes are a little strange to us. The semi-sitting down food (that eaten sitting in outside food gardens) is a lot better, with a huge range of flavours and combinations which can see you through an evening very enjoyably. The food actually served by the side of the road however often seems less imaginative.

Andrew made a bit of a habit of being ripped off, though this isn't his fault. With his permission I can reveal one of the truly greatest scams I've heard about while I've been here. While walking around one of the towns he visited he was accosted by a couple of 'English students' out to practice the spoken word. This is an oft practiced ploy and has got me off the beaten path a couple of times. You feel kind of mean telling them you don't want to until you realise that most of the time they eventually want to get you into their gallery or tea shop, as follows. Andrew was told that he really should try some Chinese tea and see the ceremony, true enough. He was taken to a tea house where the menu was flashed in front of him showing some high (38 kuai, two point fifty) but not unreasonable prices. He was then given a few samples of different teas, each time the tea being prepared in the same ornate fashion with much pouring, swashing and deliberate spilling followed by an elaborate method of smelling and tasting the product through all stages of brewing. After these tasters Andrew was advised to buy a particular tea. Thinking this was what the 38 kuai went towards he agreed, having tasted some fine brews. Seeing as you can get a cup of tea in a restaurant for 5 kuai with free refills, the bill arriving on his lap for a little over 2000 kuai came as a bit of a shock. In fact the 38 kuai was per taste of each tea and he'd gone full throttle trying every one. 2000 kuai is a over 100 quid and, being far more than was in his wallet, was not up for the taking. With some fine British reserve he declared the whole thing a scam and gave them everything that was in his wallet (around 200 kuai). After a while they seemed to agree that perhaps this was more reasonable so let him go, all limbs intact. Be warned!

Tatsuya and I have finished working together here and have accomplished a great deal in the last two weeks. By spending all day calculating, conjecturing and bouncing ideas off each other, we've done half the work for a joint paper which we will put together with a friend in Poland in the coming weeks. It wasn't all work however as, when Andrew returned from his travels we went to a local club which it turned out was Tatsuya's first. He seemed to rather enjoy the slightly strange experience, being surrounded by a truly international selection of drunkards in deepest, darkest Beijing.

Now, with one day left in the office I have a few things to finish off before lugging all my stuff back home to see if culture shock (no pun intended) will greet me on the other side of the journey.


Andrew said...

Actually I know three Chinese words:

1. Hello
2. Thankyou
3. Oh my God!

The third was surprisingly useful.

Gail Dawn Retriever said...

I was skim reading that last post and only saw the words golden retriever, meat, noodle. Now having read the blog in full I am glad to hear you haven't eaten dog.
Also more pleased to hear your reaction to the possibility of eating dog.

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi Andrew,

My apologies for underestimating your abilities. Whether it be two or three word I'm still mighty impressed that you got around with so little hastle.


I surprised myself a little, but no, there shan't be dog in my noodles any time soon.